Final Whistle with John Hackworth

The latest insight and views of Union manager John Hackworth

Dear Supporters,

Two wins against the same eastern conference opponent and a hard fought/humbling loss against the  two-time defending champion in eight (what seemed like very short) days is what it is.  We had set a goal of earning seven points in that tight stretch, but we ended up with six points and two shutouts.

It wasn't what we were shooting for, but it’s not all bad news.

As our head athletic trainer Paul Rushing's favorite band, AC/DC, once said, “It’s a Long Way to the Top.” We still have lots of room for improvement, but we know the challenges and that is half the battle.

What Do You Stand For – you’re probably noticing a reoccurring theme each time each time I write these letters. I start by saying how thankful and proud I am to have such loyal fans who continue to show up and support our club through challenging circumstances – normally less than desirable weather (we all remember the rain/snow/sleet/everything storm vs. New England, right?). This time, it was a game that fell in the middle of the week, when many of you have work, school and daily responsibilities. But on Wednesday night, you showed up. Then, after a tough loss to the Galaxy, you showed up again on Saturday in the rain and turned PPL Park into a place we are proud to defend. As we continue to stand for you, I can’t say enough how much your consistent, passionate support of our team means to all of us. We Stand For You because you stand for us.

Once again, thank you.

Before I get into anything else, I wanted to mention something I haven’t been able to talk about yet, and that is our trade of Garfan. Gabriel has been a great contributor for our club for over two years.  He’s been a true professional, teammate and friend to us all. Having that said, he approached us about going somewhere where he could have an opportunity to reach one of his goals. While it was a very hard decision for us, we decided to try to find a solution that was good for both Gabriel and our club. After many months of trying to make a deal, we finally came to an agreement that benefited both parties. While it was the right business decision, it was very difficult for me personally.  I respect Gabriel and have had the honor to watch him mature as a player and a person. Even my own kids were upset with me, as Gabriel had in his special way endeared himself to our family.  At the end of the day, it was the best outcome for him and us.  I wish Garfan tremendous success wherever he plays.  I just hope that it is never against the Union.

Moving on, I’ll get into a little bit of what you’ve been seeing on the field.

It’s extremely difficult to beat a team – especially a team within your conference that is competing for the same playoff spot you are – two times within eight days. To do that is a really big step for our club. As I’ve mentioned, I think Chicago is a much better team than their record indicates, so to put in two quality performances says a lot about our guys. 1-0 wins are very, very important to win in this league. It takes a lot of grit and mental toughness to win those kinds of games, and we’ve been fortunate enough to have three of them this year. There are going to be some times where you aren’t going to put multiple goals in the back of the net, but still have to be able to walk out with three points. I’m proud that our guys were able to do that twice this week, especially at PPL Park, in front of fans that I think epitomize the mentality it takes to win those games: Philly tough!

The win on Saturday means even more when I consider the fact that it came on the heels of a 4-1 loss in the middle of the week. Going down 2-1, we wanted to push forward to get points at home, which unfortunately made us a little more vulnerable in the back and gave space to two of the most talented players in our league: Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane. You know the rest… Although I don’t think that score accurately reflects the whole story of the match, losses like that can be very tough for a team mentally. I give a lot of credit to our guys for learning from that match, moving forward and getting a result just three days later. We have a really close group, and I’m glad to see that spill over into how we play on the field, with each guy fighting for each other.

One of those guys I want to highlight is Zac. His performance on Saturday showed a lot of character and resilience. I know the kind of person he is, and I was proud that he was able to show that on Saturday with a really strong performance. In addition to Zac, a lot of our guys stepped up in big ways to rebound from the loss on Wednesday. Kléberson stepped into the midfield and showed us a lot of really good qualities in his first two starts. He has been patient in adapting to our club, league and style of play and has done everything we’ve asked of him. To put it in terms reflective of Kléberson himself, he has been “muito bom.” BC ,as usual, put in his incredible volume of work, but what was especially good to see was that his overall play produced his best performance of the season.  Seba worked tirelessly on both sides of the ball and provided Jack with another great assist against Chicago (and yes, that applies to both games against the Fire).

He has adapted to whatever role we have asked of him and has excelled in each of them. And, of course, Jack has been outstanding all year long and has continued to give us another dimension as an offense. As much as I’m proud of him for his success on the field, I’m just as proud that he has stayed grounded and kept working harder and harder every day to get better. While most of the glory goes to the guys who produce and score goals, I thought two guys who deserved credit vs Chicago were Marfan and Baky.  Michael was good on both sides of the ball, while Baky anchored our back line for the third straight game. “I’ll keep going until I can’t” – the words of Danny Cruz when I asked him if he was OK to stay in the game after picking up a knock on Saturday. And he did, putting in another performance where he left everything out on the field and making a huge play in single-handedly stealing a ball from Chicago and then drawing the foul that put us up a man. That’s huge. His attitude – the relentlessness, hustle and intensity – is a perfect representation of what this club stands for and wants to bring every time we step out on the field at PPL Park. On Saturday, Danny showed us all “Philly tough.”

Although we can look back at this week and find some very positive things, everyone in our locker room knows that we still have room to improve. And we will continue to work smart and efficiently every day to do just that.

Looking ahead, we have a game in Montreal this weekend against a team that is undefeated at home on the year. After a busy week, we’ve gotten some much needed rest, and Saturday will be a big challenge for our guys. But we want to bring that same mentality we have had all year on the road and go for a result.

And after our match against the Impact, we have our first U.S. Open Cup match of the year at PPL Park. While it isn’t an MLS match, this game isn’t a friendly, scrimmage or exhibition, either. We are a part of the oldest ongoing soccer tournament in American history. As a club that is in its fourth year, we have an opportunity to be a part of American soccer history – last year, we reached the semifinals and lost to the eventual champions. This year, we want to build on that success and reward the fans who sprung us into existence with a deep run in such a prestigious tournament.

On Tuesday against the Nor’easters, that run starts.  I look forward to seeing – and hearing – all of you then.

Thanks for your continued support.

John Hackworth, Team Manager

Philadelphia Union

Jungite Aut Perite